The Secret to Daniel Boulud's Success Is Down in a Smelly Cellar in Lyon

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The world-famous chef goes back to his roots in an all-new episode of the Tinfoil Swans podcast.

<p>Daniel Krieger</p>

Daniel Krieger

Daniel Boulud and the Cellar Full of Woodcocks

Welcome to Season 2, Episode 13 of Tinfoil Swans, a new podcast from Food & Wine. New episodes drop every Tuesday. Listen and follow on: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen

On this episode

By the time Daniel Boulud was in Food & Wine's first class of Best New Chefs in 1988, he'd already been working in restaurant kitchens for almost two decades. At 14, he knew school wasn't for him and that despite his parents' concerns, he wanted to be a cook. Now with 20-plus restaurants and countless accolades in his knife roll, the world-famous chef looks back at the moments that made his legendary career, including grueling work in a windowless Lyon basement, creating the first viral burger, and the time he soaked 7,000 stamps off of envelopes so he wouldn't go broke.

Related: Cruise Food Is Better Than Ever – Just Ask Daniel Boulud

Meet our guest

French-born Daniel Boulud arrived in New York City in 1982 and has been at the forefront of the fine dining conversation ever since. His restaurant empire includes locations in Boston, Washington, D.C., Palm Beach, Miami, Toronto, Montréal, London, Singapore, and Dubai, as well as multiple Manhattan outposts such as Boulud Sud, three locations of Épicerie Boulud, Bar Boulud, Le Gratin, Café Boulud, Maison Barnes, Le Pavillon, and his flagship Daniel, which holds two Michelin stars. Boulud is the author of nine cookbooks, has won James Beard Awards for Best Chef NYC, Outstanding Service, Outstanding Restaurateur, Outstanding Chef, and Outstanding Restaurant, and received a lifetime achievement award from the organization behind the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.

Related: 12 Daniel Boulud Recipes From Easy-Peasy to Totally Worth the Effort

Meet our host

Kat Kinsman is the executive features editor at Food & Wine, author of Hi, Anxiety: Life With a Bad Case of Nerves, host of Food & Wine's podcast, and founder of Chefs With Issues. Previously, she was the senior food & drinks editor at Extra Crispy, editor-in-chief and editor at large at Tasting Table, and the founding editor of CNN Eatocracy. She won a 2020 IACP Award for Personal Essay/Memoir and has had work included in the 2020 and 2016 editions of The Best American Food Writing. She was nominated for a James Beard Broadcast Award in 2013, won a 2011 EPPY Award for Best Food Website with 1 million unique monthly visitors, and was a finalist in 2012 and 2013. She is a sought-after international keynote speaker and moderator on food culture and mental health in the hospitality industry, and is the former vice chair of the James Beard Journalism Committee.

Highlights from the episode

On being a naughty but useful child

"We had a field of garlic and the garlic was sprouting, but the weeds were sprouting too. We had a certain time, late April, to get all the weeds out so the garlic could really grow well. So that was on your back picking out all the weeds on rows and rows of garlic. That was my spring break at 10 years old. Sometimes I'd be terrible and a devil to my parents, but I'd try to be useful at the farm."

On finding his way

"By the time I was 14, I wanted to quit school and my parents didn't know what to do. They put me in a small college that I could learn cooking, and it was convenient because it was toward the side of Lyon where I was living, but it was a bit in the ghetto of Lyon. The school was terrible. After maybe two weeks, I told my parents that I didn't wanna go to that school. I hated the school. The food was bad. The whole thing was bad. And so my parents were desperate. And I was adamant I wanted to be a chef."

On paying his dues

"I spent days and days during the game season in the cellar where there was no window, no air conditioning, just a cold wet cellar, because when you pluck birds, you don't want the agitation of air. So I was in the basement with a couple of spotlights, plucking pheasant, partridge, woodcocks, wild squab. Then the worst was the wild hare because wild hare smells so bad. Usually, they have been shot three or four days before. Then you have to take all the skin and the guts out. My first year, I had to do everything no one else wanted to do in the kitchen."

On his wildly successful 1980s newsletter

"We had about maybe 1,200 subscribers and growing. I went on a show, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, and they put my P.O. box and phone number to receive a newsletter. I asked only to send me a self-stamp envelope, and I would send a newsletter. The minute I was off the show, nonstop for a month at least or more, we received more than 3,000 phone calls. At night, we had to unplug the phone if we wanted a break."

On luck and work

"I'm proud of my legacy in New York, of what I've accomplished and what I've done for others, and what I've done for my profession. Of course, there's so much more I want to do. But I was lucky. I always tell kids, in life, you need luck. But you've got to go and get it. It's not just gonna come into your hand. And you got to work hard. You've got to hustle hard in order to get yourself out of the pack. We can look at people that are successful today, and we don't always see what it took them to be there. I think I'm just one of them that had to work hard to get there."

About the podcast

Food & Wine has led the conversation around food, drinks, and hospitality in America and around the world since 1978. Tinfoil Swans continues that legacy with a new series of intimate, informative, surprising, and uplifting interviews with the biggest names in the culinary industry, sharing never-before-heard stories about the successes, struggles, and fork-in-the-road moments that made these personalities who they are today.

This season, you'll hear from icons and innovators like Daniel Boulud, Rodney Scott, Asma Khan, Emeril and EJ Lagasse, Claudia Fleming, Dave Beran, Dan Giusti, Priya Krishna, Lee Anne Wong, Cody Rigsby, Kevin Gillespie and other special guests going deep with host Kat Kinsman on their formative experiences; the dishes and meals that made them; their joys, doubts and dreams; and what's on the menu in the future. Tune in for a feast that'll feed your brain and soul — and plenty of wisdom and quotable morsels to savor.

New episodes drop every Tuesday. Listen and follow on: Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you listen.

These interview excerpts have been edited for clarity.

Download the Transcript

Editor’s Note: The transcript for download does not go through our standard editorial process and may contain inaccuracies and grammatical errors.

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Read the original article on Food & Wine.